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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Usher's Looking 4 Myself: A First Listen

Posted By on Wed, Jun 27, 2012 at 3:30 AM

Page 2 of 2

"Numb"

It's astounding how many of these songs could be hits, and this one's a percolating dancefloor-filler with a "forever is a long long long time" hook and music that takes its cues from Rihanna's out-of-body lose-your-mind smash "We Found Love." So kudos, Mr. Raymond, as I'm crowning you king of the club. This has to be your best album by far, btw.

"Lessons for the Lover"

Clocking at five minutes as we sigh into the homestretch, and by far the most Luther-ian trad Quiet Storm on the premises, forgive me; this one just isn't to my taste.

"Sins of My Father"

Okay -- this is AWESOME. A dark little blues-tango-theater-reggae lament that stacks on the overdubs fantastically towards the finish, not to mention Michael Jackson-worthy choral and orchestral layering, this is the most ambitious, cinematic offering on the premises and maybe of Usher's whole career. "Confessions" is 8mm by comparison. Dig those swampy congas, that mercenary bassline, that devious chord change.

"Euphoria"

It's hard not to wonder if Nicki Minaj's ultimately excellent Roman Reloaded would've been received differently if the dance tracks were interspersed this cleverly, though her tracks are too abrupt to segue this seamlessly. Sometimes chart R&B's calculated smoothness has its advantages in album context too, as do irresistible rave-synth breaks, which live up to the title and come crashing down again on cue.

"I.F.U."

One of the best in show. The string sample isn't sap, it's swirling, rapid-fire fiddling, sawing the entire, otherwise minimal track to ribbons even as it carries it on its back. From "I think sex was made for strangers" to "We gonna do a whole lot," it's safe to assume our velvet-draped host knows what he's talking about. And if he claims to be above fantasizing, well who can blame a guy who's been in a position to freak whoever and whatever amen since his teens?

"Say the Words"

The retro-authenticity of Looking 4 Myself is verified by just how watery these textures are. I mean, talking pianos and keytar noodling! It's a testament to their comfort-food power that they elevate even some of the middling tracks, as evidenced here. And Usher himself has a pleasing way of staying in the shadows on his own tunes, a trick that's gotten even the likes of Bon Iver (I hate Bon Iver) through his own records.

"2nd Round"

A big anthem from the get-go, with a false start that then opts for some tricky production, disembodied chipmunk voices, and stuttering hi-hats. About tour sex: "Girl I'm in your town/ so come over." Despite the velveteen production, he's beginning to sound bored. But by now he's already gone far more than two rounds past yes, the "Climax." I'm dead-set on driving that joke into the ground.

"Hot Thing"

Awesome way to finish: the hardest beat on the record, with evil dying-Donkey-Kong synths a la "Milkshake," spinning-chamber-of-knives percussion and screwed-down response rapping. Bonus: the best thing A$SP Rocky's ever been part of.

So this album is a tour de force, with shockingly little filler for an overstuffed R&B record and shockingly little annoyance for hi-gloss pop production. Only three tracks need definitive pruning, and cutting any more than two after that would cause good ones to be missed. Maybe I'll go back and revisit My Way or Confessions after all.

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